On Saturday, President Mamnoon Hussain met Imam-e-Ka’aba Sheikh Saleh Mohammad bin Talib. During the meeting, the usually passive President suggested the creation of an international council of Muslim religious scholars. The purpose for the formation of such a group is to present the true picture of Islam to the outside world and to come up with a comprehensive plan to revive the true spirit of Islam.

A proposal such as this, in times when Islamophobia is on the rise, can help in creating a positive image of the Islamic community. What has to be ensured when the proposal materialises is that all Muslim countries are involved in the process and agree upon the set agenda- a near impossible feat. There is no international agreement on what “true Islam” is and the Muslim world is already divided after the announcement of the Saudi-led military alliance.

Government officials have to think of strategies that work well in the 21st century. The council can be used to counter the Islamophobic narrative in the West. Our traditions and cultures can be highlighted through the promotion of local art, music and films, though this is probably not what the Imam and the President may have in mind.

It is often argued that Islam is at threat in Pakistan, but the visit of the Imam to Pakistan, the droves that came to see him, and the Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F)’s congregation in Azakhel where thousands gathered, is proof that Islam is not at threat and is a vital social force. It permeates all sections of society, all sectors of public life and politics. But people are at threat in Pakistan, and must be made a priority. They need to be recognised by their human rights rather than just be seen as soldiers for the nebulous project of protecting Islam. There is nothing anti-Islamic about protecting people from death, poverty and censorship.

JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman said something quite secular on Saturday, that shunning sectarianism and internal differences was imperative for bringing harmony and unity among the Muslims of the world. He said, “We are proud that our Christian, Hindu and Sikh brothers are present in centennial celebration of the party which proves that we are one nation whether we are Muslims or non-Muslims.”

If our religious leaders actually believe in “one nation”, and actually want to shun sectarianism, before we go about creating an international league of ulema to protect Islam, there is a need for a domestic league of ulema to openly and vocally discourage violence and militant groups, and advocate the protection of the rights of every Pakistani- man, woman, child or minority. They are the gatekeepers of our society, and every Muslim is listening to them and waiting for them to join in the fight to eliminate terrorism and the influence of proscribed groups.